Debugging LLVM

NOTE: If you are looking for info about code generation, please see this chapter instead.

This section is about debugging compiler bugs in code generation (e.g. why the compiler generated some piece of code or crashed in LLVM). LLVM is a big project on its own that probably needs to have its own debugging document (not that I could find one). But here are some tips that are important in a rustc context:

As a general rule, compilers generate lots of information from analyzing code. Thus, a useful first step is usually to find a minimal example. One way to do this is to

  1. create a new crate that reproduces the issue (e.g. adding whatever crate is at fault as a dependency, and using it from there)

  2. minimize the crate by removing external dependencies; that is, moving everything relevant to the new crate

  3. further minimize the issue by making the code shorter (there are tools that help with this like creduce)

The official compilers (including nightlies) have LLVM assertions disabled, which means that LLVM assertion failures can show up as compiler crashes (not ICEs but "real" crashes) and other sorts of weird behavior. If you are encountering these, it is a good idea to try using a compiler with LLVM assertions enabled - either an "alt" nightly or a compiler you build yourself by setting [llvm] assertions=true in your config.toml - and see whether anything turns up.

The rustc build process builds the LLVM tools into ./build/<host-triple>/llvm/bin. They can be called directly.

The default rustc compilation pipeline has multiple codegen units, which is hard to replicate manually and means that LLVM is called multiple times in parallel. If you can get away with it (i.e. if it doesn't make your bug disappear), passing -C codegen-units=1 to rustc will make debugging easier.

To rustc to generate LLVM IR, you need to pass the --emit=llvm-ir flag. If you are building via cargo, use the RUSTFLAGS environment variable (e.g. RUSTFLAGS='--emit=llvm-ir'). This causes rustc to spit out LLVM IR into the target directory.

cargo llvm-ir [options] path spits out the LLVM IR for a particular function at path. (cargo install cargo-asm installs cargo asm and cargo llvm-ir). --build-type=debug emits code for debug builds. There are also other useful options. Also, debug info in LLVM IR can clutter the output a lot: RUSTFLAGS="-C debuginfo=0" is really useful.

RUSTFLAGS="-C save-temps" outputs LLVM bitcode (not the same as IR) at different stages during compilation, which is sometimes useful. One just needs to convert the bitcode files to .ll files using llvm-dis which should be in the target local compilation of rustc.

If you want to play with the optimization pipeline, you can use the opt tool from ./build/<host-triple>/llvm/bin/ with the LLVM IR emitted by rustc. Note that rustc emits different IR depending on whether -O is enabled, even without LLVM's optimizations, so if you want to play with the IR rustc emits, you should:

$ rustc +local --emit=llvm-ir -O -C no-prepopulate-passes \
    -C codegen-units=1
$ OPT=./build/$TRIPLE/llvm/bin/opt
$ $OPT -S -O2 < my-file.ll > my

If you just want to get the LLVM IR during the LLVM pipeline, to e.g. see which IR causes an optimization-time assertion to fail, or to see when LLVM performs a particular optimization, you can pass the rustc flag -C llvm-args=-print-after-all, and possibly add -C llvm-args='-filter-print-funcs=EXACT_FUNCTION_NAME (e.g. -C llvm-args='-filter-print-funcs=_ZN11collections3str21_$LT$impl$u20$str$GT$\ 7replace17hbe10ea2e7c809b0bE').

That produces a lot of output into standard error, so you'll want to pipe that to some file. Also, if you are using neither -filter-print-funcs nor -C codegen-units=1, then, because the multiple codegen units run in parallel, the printouts will mix together and you won't be able to read anything.

If you want just the IR for a specific function (say, you want to see why it causes an assertion or doesn't optimize correctly), you can use llvm-extract, e.g.

$ ./build/$TRIPLE/llvm/bin/llvm-extract \
    -func='_ZN11collections3str21_$LT$impl$u20$str$GT$7replace17hbe10ea2e7c809b0bE' \
    -S \
    < unextracted.ll \
    > extracted.ll

Filing LLVM bug reports

When filing an LLVM bug report, you will probably want some sort of minimal working example that demonstrates the problem. The Godbolt compiler explorer is really helpful for this.

  1. Once you have some LLVM IR for the problematic code (see above), you can create a minimal working example with Godbolt. Go to

  2. Choose LLVM-IR as programming language.

  3. Use llc to compile the IR to a particular target as is:

    • There are some useful flags: -mattr enables target features, -march= selects the target, -mcpu= selects the CPU, etc.
    • Commands like llc -march=help output all architectures available, which is useful because sometimes the Rust arch names and the LLVM names do not match.
    • If you have compiled rustc yourself somewhere, in the target directory you have binaries for llc, opt, etc.
  4. If you want to optimize the LLVM-IR, you can use opt to see how the LLVM optimizations transform it.

  5. Once you have a godbolt link demonstrating the issue, it is pretty easy to fill in an LLVM bug.